(12) New Mexico 56

(23-8, 12-2 MW)

(5) Florida 68

(19-10, 8-6 SEC)

    9:00 PM ET, March 20, 2004

    The Pit, Albuquerque, New Mexico

    1 2 T
    #12UNM 26 3056
    #5FLA 33 3568

    Top Performers

    New Mexico: L. Arndt 11 Pts, 3 Reb

    Florida: N. Morehead 18 Pts, 11 Reb

    Florida silences partisan crowd with run at end

    ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- A cheerleader most of the first half, Vanessa Hayden played like one of the best centers in the country in the final 20 minutes of Florida's opening round win in the NCAA tournament.

    The SEC's defensive player of the year scored 15 of her 17 points in the second half and Florida scored the final 10 points to beat New Mexico 68-56 in the first round of the Midwest Regional.

    Florida (19-10) advances to Monday's second round of the Midwest Regional, where the Gators will face Baylor.

    "I wanted to come out and have an immediate impact," said Hayden, who sat out the last 11:50 of the first half in foul trouble. "My teammates were working hard in the first half and they wanted me to come out in the second half and make an impression. I think I did that."

    Still, the 12th seeded Lobos had a shot at the upset over the No. 5 seed Gators.

    New Mexico (23-8) used a 14-4 run late in the game to get within 58-56 with 2:57 left on a 3-pointer by Melissa Forest. But the Lobos didn't score again.

    The Gators' Tishona Gregory scored on a three-point play with 2:10 left, then hit two free throws 30 seconds later. A layup by Danielle Santos stretched the lead to 65-56 with a minute left.

    "Our focus had to be defense," Florida coach Carolyn Peck said of the Gators' late 10-0 run. "The Lobos were trying to penetrate off the screen. We tried to play containing defense and once we got possession, we just tried to make good decisions and not play too fast."

    Florida's Tashia Morehead scored 16 points, all of them in the first half, and hit a season-high four 3-pointers. She had 11 rebounds. Bernice Mosby added 17 points and 7 rebounds.

    With Morehead going 4-for-4 from behind the arc, the Gators hardly missed Hayden in the first half.

    "When I first went out, I was very frustrated and at that point I became a cheerleader for my team," Hayden said. "I told Tashia, 'You have to step up."

    Morehead did. She carried the Gators by hitting 6 of 9 shots and grabbing seven rebounds in the first half. A year ago on this day, Morehead scored 46 points for Gulf Coast Community College against Western Nebraska in the title game of National Junior College Athletic Association tournament.

    "This is the time of year that Tashia Morehead can shine," Peck said. "She's a tremendous force."

    Morehead went 0-for-4 shooting in the second half, but it didn't matter once the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Hayden took over inside.

    She scored 14 points in the first 7{ minutes and grabbed nine of her 10 rebounds after halftime. She finished with her 50th career double-double.

    Lindsey Arndt led New Mexico with 11 points. Forest had 10 rebounds, but Florida won the rebounding by a 45-36 margin.

    The Gators also took out the red-clad, partisan New Mexico crowd of 16,029. The Lobos rode the homecourt edge and their raucous fans into last year's round of 16 with wins in The Pit over Miami and Mississippi State, but the Gators' threesome of Morehead, Hayden and Mosby were too tough.

    New Mexico put up 21 3s in the game and hit just five. Fifteen of the Lobos' first 20 shots were 3-pointers.

    "We shot poorly in the first half and got behind right away," New Mexico coach Don Flanagan said. "One thing we didn't want to do was play from behind. But we dug ourselves too deep a hole and almost got back."

    The loss snapped New Mexico's 11-game winning streak and provided an early exit for the Lobos in their third straight trip to the tournament.

    Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press


    Team Stat Comparison

    Points 56 68
    FG Made-Attempted 18-56 (.321) 24-59 (.407)
    3P Made-Attempted 5-21 (.238) 5-16 (.313)
    FT Made-Attempted 15-20 (.750) 15-22 (.682)
    Fouls (Tech/Flagrant) 16 (0/0) 17 (0/0)

    Game Leaders

    PointsL. Arndt 11N. Morehead 18
    ReboundsM. Forest 8N. Morehead 11


    » Mar 20, 2004 @FLA 68, UNM 56Recap | Box Score